The Famous Burkes Panic of 1947
Introducing the Fine Art of Keeping Your Mind by Not Losing Your Stuff
Keeping up with your stuff and staying calm is something we’re working on every day. How do we stay in command of our minds and emotions?
As a teenager, I learned from observing my Grandmother Burkes about what I later called the famous “Burkes Panic”–the pure fear that comes upon a person when suddenly something isn’t there where you can put your hands on it and you’re bolting through the house in a fear reaction that is usually way out of proportion to the situation.
The Burkes Panic I observed was part of my grandmother’s struggle to make the transition from the culture of a small farming community where there we’re many places to lose anything–to a complext modern urban life way back in the late ’40’s. The new complexity of dealing with places and technologies she never dreamed of caused her almost constant panic.
Of course the Burkes Panic is with us today. “Where are my keys?–Strange, I can’t believe I left them dangling in the door.” “I’ve lost my cell phone–Oops! That’s what I’m talking into right now.” “I just had that coffee, now where is it?” “If I can’t find that file, I can’t go to the meeting–I’ll have to tell them I’ve come down with Bubonic Plague so I can get it delayed.”
The list is practically endless and, to a certain extent, this personal chaos happens to all of us and
impacts our life at the office and at home. One top venture capita. list executive confided that he had lost more than one Louis Vuitton briefcase that year (they cost north of $3,000). One he set down behind his car and promptly backed over it. Another he cleverly set on top of his car where it stayed perched until falling off somewhere down the road. He stewed and fumed, trying to figure out what happened.
These kinds of situations are often caused by personal traumas, great and small, and by the endless barrage of ever accelerating change in job and personal life. This personal crisis of “where could it be?” comes from change and its impact that we’re constantly living.
My grandmother’s original Burkes Panic originated when my grandfather died and she left the four bedroom farm house in Central Texas where she had spent a lifetime living “Little House on the Prairie,” cooking on a woodstove and churning butter. In a month or so was living with an older son in Denver, and dealing with everything from modern appliances like vacuum cleaners and food mixers, to two story houses and public transportation.
For my grandmother something was eternally lost, out of place, and all that added up to creating one crisis after another. Keeping up with a purse, keys, glasses, and going about a set schedule produced panics that showed in her eyes darting in pursuit of the next missing object she was looking for, the event she didn’t expect and couldn’t quite decide how to handle.
I used to feel sorry for my grandmother and made fun of her behind her back. I found out, however, that she had her revenge—she passed her genes on to me! I too suffer from the Burkes Panic.
Here are some thoughts that might be useful in handling these moments:
- Your Life Is Complicated—Devise a Simple System of Where You Put Your Stuff. I have three basic things to keep up with every day—the keys to my cars and house, my billfold, and my cellphone. I have one place in my closet where these things go on the same shelf every night of my life. In early years the billfold might be in the pants on the floor and the keys came to rest almost any place in the house and my cellphone could be a half dozen places. It’s worth it to walk from one end of the house to the other to place those objects in the same place every time, and I rarely panic because they are always there.
- It’s 2015—I Put My Brains on My Phone. How do I remember ideas and to-do’s? God bless Steve Jobs for the iPhone and the notepad that I use every day. Most smart phones have this feature. Paper is so 20th Century and out of date. You have to keep up with it, and you have to file it. There are many more sophisticated apps that many of my friends use, and a few even use them effectively. But I keep hundreds of notes on my notepad, and always have them literally in my hand.
- Schedule Appointments with Yourself. How do I manage my day? A calendar is for so much more than keeping track of appointments. If you put something on your to-do list, it may be there a month from now, but if you put it on your calendar, you’ll be reminded of it and it takes on importance and urgency. That’s why I make a lot of appointments with myself to work on projects, make that call to a prospect, or take clothes to the cleaners. When I follow this system, it rarely fails me.
- Defeat Your Own Avoidance. Most people I know who are achievers work against pushback from themselves—we tell ourselves we are going to do something, and then successfully avoid it. The more you have a simple routine that you don’t have to decide every day if you’ll do it or not (shall I bathe and use deodorant? Hmmm, probably so.) Make your important things like daily hygene, a habit that you do automatically. You can switch things around later, once you master routine.
- You Can’t Afford Panic—Emotional Attacks Destroy Your Health Over Time. Every time you suffer an emotional jolt when you can’t find something or miss something you should have done it jolts your physical being. It becomes a repeating, addictive behavior we can’t get enough of. Just like any other addictive behavior—and we are addicted to stress—emotional shocks contribute to bad health.
- Controlling Your Emotional Reactions Is a Learned Skill. When you are early in the game of life, everything seems like a serious threat. If we practice disassociating ourselves from emotional reactions, we’ll never be perfect, but we can get better over time. Practice talking to yourself in your adult voice. Is this really a serious situation? Not really. I have many options, so chill.
- You are the Star of Your Own Movie—Don’t be a Dork, Play the Part Well. People judge you by the way you control yourself. You’re the star of your own show. Be that star!
The most admired person in the room is the relaxed guy or gal who is so cool and organized. You deserve to be that person.